Pubdate: Thu, 15 Mar 2007
Source: Victoria Times-Colonist (CN BC)
Copyright: 2007 Times Colonist
Author: Rob Shaw, Times Colonist


Coincidently, van Iersel to audit province's strategy on homeless

Addicts are having sex and shooting up drugs outside the downtown 
Victoria office of the B.C. auditor general, and he -- like many 
others -- is fed up with the situation.

In a tersely worded letter to Victoria city council and police, Arn 
van Iersel expressed his "great concern" over safety issues in and 
around the alleys of Bastion Square, and said the number of police 
must be increased in the area.

"Just last week we had a couple fornicating outside our training 
room," writes van Iersel in a letter dated Feb. 13. "We also again 
had people shooting up drugs outside our back door. This is not the 
workplace I or my staff would like to have, and certainly not the 
image we want to have about Victoria."

In an interview yesterday about the letter, van Iersel revealed his 
office will soon start an audit of the provincial government's 
homeless strategy -- although he said the two issues aren't related. 
The auditor general's role is to conduct independent audits of the 
government to see how efficiently it is running programs and spending 
taxpayer money.

In the letter, Van Iersel asked the city to consider more 
surveillance cameras, and noted the building's landlord has hired 
someone to pick up syringes every day.

"While this is a help, I think what we need is more of a police 
presence," he wrote.

The office has been located in Bastion Square for the past 30 years. 
Van Iersel admitted the drug and homelessness problems, which have 
been raised repeatedly by other Bastion Square businesses, are not 
exactly new to the area and are large social problems faced outside 
Victoria as well.

However, staff who used to enter the office through a back door near 
the parkade now feel their safety is at risk, he said. Many are 
worried about stepping on one of the syringes or being confronted 
when alone, he said.

In a reply to van Iersel, city administration manager Sheryl Masters 
wrote that Victoria faces "some complex social issues" in the 
downtown core but is working with numerous groups to make things better.

She wrote that the city hopes to reduce addiction, street urination 
and nuisance problems by improving lighting, cleaning and emergency 
shelters, changing its graffiti and panhandling bylaws, and adding 
more police to the area.
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